HSE Working at height clampdown for Scotland – will you be next?


In August, we learned of a blitz that was being conducted by HSE Inspectors across the Midlands in England. Now in September it is the turn of construction safety in Scotland to fall under their intense scrutiny.

Why is this happening? Is the building trade being unfairly targeted? The fact is that HSE have served notice on the industry that it is regarded as having one of the highest accident rates. Health and safety consultants have pointed out that Agriculture is in many ways a worse case, and the suspicion lingers that farms are harder to police: construction takes place at defined, licensed sites and inspectors can keep a close eye on activities. By contrast, illegal construction and demolition, plus many inherently dangerous daily activities, take place unnoticed and unchecked across the farming landscape.

Construction Safety Focus

Be that as it may, the HSE points out that in the 12 months to April 2012, 49 workers died whilst working on UK construction sites. The most common cause was falling from height. More than 5 falling incidents are reported daily.
This latest targeted construction safety initiative in Scotland has the objective of reducing death, injury and ill health caused by working at height.

Be aware that inspectors will mostly be looking at work that takes place on the external parts of buildings (although they will not ignore interior safety). They are hoping to remind construction contractors that poor standards are totally unacceptable and may lead to enforcement, which from October will start to attract onerous fees if failings are not remedied.

Archie Mitchell is one of HSE’s Principal Inspectors for construction in Scotland, and will be at the forefront of this action. He comments:

Falling from height is the cause of the greatest number of fatalities. All too often straightforward practical precautions are not considered and workers are put unnecessarily at risk. In many cases, simple changes to working practices can make all the difference. Poor management of risk in this industry is unacceptable. As we have demonstrated in the past, we will take strong action if we find evidence that workers are being unnecessarily put at risk.

If you are based in Scotland, how do you prepare for an unannounced inspection? HSE say they will be looking to see if you have identified and planned for tasks that involve working at height, making sure that proper precautions are taken for this work. The equipment must be installed or assembled correctly, and you must inspect it, and maintain it during its use.

And if you are breathing a sigh of relief because you are not in Scotland, then be sure that your time will come: other regions are bound to be hit as the year continues. For the HSE has had its budget cut and it has made a deliberate policy of aiming its reduced resources at the ‘high risk’ sectors, of which construction is considered one of the worst.

Do not delay until the knock comes on the site gate: ensure that your procedures and actions are compliant by getting independent assistance from McCormack Benson Health & Safety. Their safety consultants never forget that you are the client and they will even take up your cause with HSE when disputes arise. Their reasonable fees can be paid back many times over by efficiency savings and by avoiding time-consuming and expensive litigation.